Three local musicals to play in Boston, New York

Scene from “The Pirates of Penzance”

NO WORD YET on whether the Goodman’s high-profile recent production of The Iceman Cometh will get a Broadway outing, artists from the stalwart Chicago storefront scene are taking their shows on the road.

Here are three very different homegrown musical pieces will hit the boards in Boston and New York.

THE HYPOCRITES OPEN their popular version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance at the Emerging America Festival happily coinciding with the Theatre Communications Group’s annual conference in Boston.

Running through this Sunday, the festival, is a joint venture of the American Repertory Theater, Huntington Theatre Company, and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

The 2010 production, created by Hypocrites founding artistic director (and Massachusetts native) Sean Graney was such a hit that the company brought it back for an encore presentation this past winter. Though Graney says in a recent Boston Globe interview that he was originally going for a Lord of the Flies vibe, he ended up with a goofy Frankie-and-Annette beach party aesthetic that provided a sunny alternative to grim Chicago winter weather.

SOMETHING CEREBRAL INSPIRED BY BELOVED CLASSICS is on the boards at Manhattan’s 59E59, where Theater Oobleck’s chamber opera, The Hunchback Variations, runs until July 1. Mickle Maher created the libretto from his earlier one-act play of the same title, and Mark Messing, vet of the Mucca Pazza circus-punk marching band and of numerous shows with Redmoon composed the score.

George Andrew Wolff and Larry Adams in "The Hunchback Variations"The piece involves a panel discussion between Ludwig von Beethoven (tenor George Andrew Wolff) and Quasimodo (baritone Larry Adams) on their failed attempt to create a sound cue in the stage directions of Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard – “Suddenly a distant sound is heard, coming as if out of the sky, like the sound of a string snapping, slowly and sadly dying away.”

Co-produced by Brian W. Parker, the brainy, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking Oobleck show, which ran this past winter at the upstairs Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens Biograph, presents some challenges in staging that the famously shoestring company hasn’t had to face in the past.

Says Maher, “The expenses were that we had to hire four professionals – people who could sing and play music.” (The score is performed by pianist Chris Sargent and cellist Paul Ghica.) “The space couldn’t just be some basement someplace. It had to have passable acoustics.”

Maher, whose acclaimed deconstruction of the 2004 presidential debates, The Strangerer, got a New York run in 2008 at the Barrow Street Theatre pronounces 59E59’s venue as “really wonderful.” However, there are aspects of producing in New York that are different than Chicago.

“We couldn’t send out a press release calling it a chamber opera, which is what it is,” says Maher. “If you’re going to be reviewed and listed in the theater section, it has to be categorized as a musical comedy.” The reviews thus far, according to Maher, have “averaged a B or B+,” and the 100-seat venue at 59E59 has been steadily filling up for the seven shows a week.

STILL IN REHEARSALS IN NEW YORK is Arnie the Doughnut, a family musical created by George Howe and Frances Limoncelli (based on the book by Laurie Keller about an adorable pastry) that originally ran at Lifeline Theatre in spring of 2011. It’s one of ten official selections of the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Next Link Projects, which provide mentorship and training for writing teams.

Arnie runs July 13-21, but Limoncelli is already in New York overseeing the production and networking with possible producers for subsequent runs – especially those who are more interested in family fare. “We are the only ones [in the festival] who are billing themselves that way. We’ll find out how that works,” says Limoncelli.

Past hits that have emerged from NYMF include the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and decidedly adult) Next to Normal, which played under the title Feeling Electric at the 2005 festival, and the comedic meta-musical [title of show], which recently made its local premiere at Northlight Theatre.

Limoncelli notes that NYMF does “offer all kinds of support, mostly in the form of sharing their experience and advice.” However, she cautions “If you are going to enter [NYMF], you should be aware that you are the producer,” which means “finding investors or donors, dealing with stars and temperaments and hiring everybody. I sort of thrive on that.”

Whether these shows will get more life after their summer sojourns remains to be seen, but at least for the next few weeks, they’ll be reminding audiences outside Chicago of the creativity regularly on view in our smaller houses.

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